It started with a dot.com bust and ended with a healthcare reform bill whimper. In between has been two mismanaged wars, a completely avoidable economic crisis, political backsliding, and an erasure of whatever optimism we arrived in the twentieth century with.
Across the world, everything’s gotten at least a little worse than it was in 2000. Poverty, the degrading environment, the boom-and-bust cycles of unchecked capitalism, religious fanaticism, the oppression of women, intolerance to diversity in race/creed/belief… we’re heading towards another world war, but it will be fought on a million fronts, in an uncoordinated way, and it will not be over nation-states’ territorial issues, but basic human rights.
On a smaller scale, the independent film world was pretty much completely coopted by Hollywood pressure, money, and the attendant mindset (must get a star; must shoot more conventionally). Every time the tools got cheaper (here comes Digital Video and some low-budget SAG contracts), the bar got raised (shoot on HD and cast a star). For every progressive move (tax incentives) came a regressive one (you have to shoot on a soundstage). Theatrical distribution is about to melt down. DVDs are going the same way. Getting paid a living wage on an indie film is getting harder and harder. The companies and people that “made it” to the promised land of bigger budgets are still struggling to make ends meet and make their movies.
New York City turned into some kind of botched gene-splicing experiment. New money transformed some neighborhoods into high-rise suburbs, with ugly empty lots replaced by ugly concrete/steel apartments and shi-shi boutique stores. But in an effort to swipe away the grime, the money people swept away all the character. Meanwhile, two blocks over, shuttered stores, crappy housing and less visible poverty suggested that all the new Wall Street wealth was not going to be shared with the rest of the city. Predictably, however, the hidden costs of that wealth and the meltdown of same have been distributed disproportionately.
And I spent the decade building a career and finishing my first film. I accumulated a big pile of rejection slips, while less talented but better connected colleagues moved up the ladder, more-talented people left the field altogether, and my friends in other businesses made a lot of money.
All of the above are reasons why I’m calling 2000-2010 the Decade of the Suck, and why I’m glad it’s behind us. About the best thing I can say about the decade professionally is that I’m a little better off than I was before, and know that I can take a few hard punches without crumpling.
But The Movies Offer Hope
Oddly enough, this time of general and specific unhappiness has also produced some incredible films, on the indie, Hollywood, Bollywood, and international front. Movies that had something to say, or were at least entertaining, or that offered the audience a new way of looking at the world. We started the decade off with Memento, Requiem For a Dream, Panic, Pitch Black, In The Mood For Love, Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet, Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Miss Congeniality… just to name a few films both high- and low-brow that have endured over the last few years. We ended the decade with District 9, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, The Hurt Locker, Up!, Inglorious Basterds, Ponyo, Precious, Up… and in between we saw amazing work by Lisa Cholodenko, David Lynch, Alexander Payne, Mira Nair, Christopher Nolan, Tsui Hark, Farah Khan, Peter Jackson, Todd Solontz… old and new, big and small, high and low, and in every genre, it was a great decade.
The ’30s and ’40s was the period where Hollywood studio filmmaking hit its peak, amidst two of the worst decades in recent human history. The ’00s may be regarded similarly, as a time when the new Hollywood – which is now a global enterprise, and extends its tentacles into what had been independent film territory – made wonderful films that helped us get through the worst times.
Convergence and the New Decade
The “aughts” will also be regarded as the first decade of true convergence – when media of all types (video, stills, music, writing, phone calls, emails) could be created and viewed with one tool: the computer. As originally envisioned in the ’70s and ’80s, the combination of networks, affordable computers and mobile/wearable computers of some kind, would result in everyone’s house having one destination/origin point for entertainment and communication. The ’00s has seen that come to pass, in ways the its original proponents (Kevin Kelly and Stewart Brand of the Whole Earth Catalog, science fiction writer Greg Bear, science writer Steven Levy, cultural critic O.B. Hardison, Jr., Steve Jobs, and many others) could not have envisioned. One of the signs that convergence has arrived is that no one talks about it anymore. It’s become invisible.
I predict that the new decade will see the rise of “cloud filmmaking”. Production will continue to be streamlined: more preproduction work, paperwork, and will be accessed and stored online (obviating the need for a big production office). The cloud will also store the day’s work. The rise of inexpensive special effects tools will make it possible to shoot on a soundstage (which could be an empty apartment) and make it look like the surface of the moon. The effects will be processed by timesharing computers networked together in the cloud.
You can see this coming together in the crowdfunding and social networking scene, and also in the software that’s starting to come out now (there are a couple of internet-based scheduling packages). Bandwidth is getting fatter and cheaper, which would enable you to edit and possibly render effects via the cloud. In many ways it’s just an extension of what big post houses already do: put media on networked storage, accessed through high-speed routers and switches.
One thing that won’t change, however, is the physical nature of filmmaking. It will still require people coming together and shooting something, even if it’s in front of a giant greenscreen. Audiences will also expect that films reflect emotional life. So while some Hollywood films are just cold CGI fantasias (Transformers 2, 2012), films that reflect a “relate-able” reality – Tulpan, Still Walking, or even Ong Bak and District 9 – will continue to find audiences. And that’s comforting.